Michelin-Starred Chef Jonathan Benno Picks His Favorite Artworks From Our NY/NY Auction

The Michelin-starred chef tells us about why this Agnes Martin drawing reminds him of coming up with recipes, how he imagines jazz in color, and more.

Jonathan Benno. Courtesy of Evan Sung.

Michelin-starred chef Jonathan Benno once said that a great chef must have humility, passion, fortitude, and creativity. Lucky for him, he has all four. Considered one of the top chefs in the country, Jonathan has put his talent to work at restaurants across New York City and the US, delivering stellar Italian cuisine at Lincoln Center’s Lincoln Ristorante as well as at his eponymous eatery, Benno, for which he received a Michelin Star in 2020.

Jonathan’s newest endeavor is a three-part project at the historic Evelyn Hotel. With a bakery, a casual Italian joint, and a fine-dining restaurant all under one roof, the project offers Jonathan the unique opportunity to showcase all of his culinary skills in one place. And though Jonathan is known for his culinary masterpieces, he also has a keen eye for fine art. Because of his deep roots in New York City, we invited Jonathan to choose his favorite from Artnet’s current NY / NY sale.


Agnes Martin
Untitled, 1971

Est. $4,000—6,000. Live now in our NY / NY sale through March 9. Courtesy of Artnet Auctions.

Agnes Martin is known for her sparse compositions, delicate lines, and sparing use of color. This work is a prime example of Martin’s experimentation with space and line. 

“For some reason, this one really sticks out,” Jonathan says. “To me, this art piece looks like a blank piece of paper, which translates into endless ideas! Almost a way of forcing one to think outside of the box, similar to how we approach our dishes in the restaurant.” 


Robert Indiana
LOVE, 1966-2002

Est. $250,000—350,000. Live now in our NY / NY sale through March 9. Courtesy of Artnet Auctions.

“This defines NYC,” Jonathan says about Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture. He’s right: the Pop motif, which first appeared in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1965 Christmas card, is an emblem of the American dream. “This sculpture always caught everybody’s eye when it was on 55th street. I can picture it now, if the sculpture was still there, masses of people posing in front of it getting their picture taken. Full of life and energy.” 


Chuck Close
Lucas Paper/Pulp, 2006

Est. $20,000—30,000. Live now in our NY / NY sale through March 9. Courtesy of Artnet Auctions.

The man in this print is actually artist Lucas Samaras, who Close depicted using various shades of gray paper pulp, but for Jonathan, it brings back sweet memories of summer.

“I love this drawing,” Jonathan says. “It reminds me of Maine. My family and I go up to Maine every summer and the man in the drawing reminds me of an old lobsterman just coming in with all his lobster pods. An old salty dog. The detail of the drawing is amazing.”


Romare Bearden
The Jazz Series (complete set of 6 works), 1979

Est. $12,000—15,000. Live now in our NY / NY sale through March 9. Courtesy of Artnet Auctions.

“I am a huge fan of jazz, but since I married my wife, Liz, I do not listen to jazz as much as I would like to. She is not a fan and ends up falling asleep,” Jonathan explains. The painting reminds Jonathan of his younger, jazz-listening days. “It also sticks out to me because of the colors, that is how I see jazz. Liz would see jazz as black and white.” 

Romare Bearden also saw jazz in technicolor. In fact, the works from Bearden’s Jazz Series are among his most highly coveted prints. These prints, which depict the movement and rhythm of uptown sound, strike at the unpredictable essence of the genre.


Glenn Ligon
Self Portrait at Nine Years Old (James Brown), 2008

Est. $3,000–5,000. Live now in our NY / NY sale through March 9. Courtesy of Artnet Auctions.

In 1969, when Glenn Ligon was nine years old, James Brown was at the peak of his musical career and social activist efforts. Ligon titled this vibrant pixelated piece a “self-portrait” to link himself to Brown’s efforts in activism and stance on Black empowerment. The work also reminds Jonathan of his own family.

“I have always been in love with James Brown,” Jonathan remarks. “The title makes me think of my nine-year-old daughter Tessa, and what she will accomplish later in life.”


This interview has been edited and condensed.

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